Remembering Archie

Hereditary Chief, Archie Robinson, helped rescue his First Nations community with salmon farming

By Fabian Dawson

First Nations elder Archie Robinson Sr., who helped rescue his remote coastal community from economic disaster with a sustainable fish farming operation, has died.

Robinson, the plain-speaking Hereditary Chief of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais, the First Nations community of Klemtu located in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest, was 85 years-old.

A fierce supporter of salmon farming and other forms of sustainable aquaculture to create healthy First Nations coastal communities, Robinson was remembered as a passionate and charismatic leader who put his community ahead of the individual.

“Archie was determined to see Klemtu’s youth have opportunities, whether it be education, athletics, or employment…his personal drive and dedication will be sorely missed,” said Ian Roberts, who worked with the First Nations group in B.C. as it embarked on a partnership with Mowi, then known as Marine Harvest.

“Archie, even in his later years where he struggled with mobility, would be there to organise and support sporting events, and other community gatherings. I will always remember my meetings with Archie with great fondness – whether in the boardroom or just hanging at his home while he carved at the kitchen table,” said Roberts who is now Director of Communications for Mowi in Scotland.

Isaiah Robinson, a band councillor, said; “Archie has left a wonderful legacy for all of us to emulate.”

“There is a big hole in our community now as we mourn the loss of our hereditary chief who taught us the language and ways of our ancestors,” said Robinson.

“He helped lead us out of a dark era with his energy and vision…the legacy of Chief Archie Robinson will always live on in Klemtu.”

The Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation has about 500 band members, most of whom live in Klemtu, across from the southern tip of Haida Gwaii ensconced by B.C.’s rugged central coast, long fjords, deep valleys and the fabled peaks of the Pacific Coast Range Mountains.

When a long-operating fish packing firm, the only employer in Klemtu abruptly shut down in 1989, Chief Robinson and other band leaders set up and operated a fish farm to keep the hard-hit community going.

The fish farm, however, could not achieve the economy of scale required to compete on the global market or withstand the drop in salmon prices in the 1990s, according to the Indigenous Business and Investment Council of B.C.

The Kitasoo/Xai’Xais then invited Marine Harvest Canada (Mowi) to Klemtu in the mid-1990s and that paved the way for the first partnership between First Nations and finfish farmers on the B.C. Coast.

 “This agreement set the standard for how we engaged with other First Nations,” said Roberts.

Today, 20 BC First Nations have partnership agreements for farming salmon in their territory resulting in 78% of all salmon farmed in the province falling under a beneficial partnership with a First Nation.

“We have done wonders since we got into partnership with Marine Harvest (Mowi). Our young people are coming out and going shopping. They never used to do that before. They go to Port Hardy. Get lots of grub for their families and other stuff. Before that they just relied on welfare, which we don’t want.” Chief Robinson told a Legislative Inquiry on Sustainable Aquaculture.

“Work together and learn to love one another. That’s the key. Learn to work together. If we can’t do that, we won’t accomplish anything of what we want done,” he told activists who opposed fish farming operations in B.C.

Last October, building on a relationship bound by strict environmental protocols, Mowi Canada West entered into a new 10-year agreement with the Kitasoo/Xai’Xais First Nation for economic development and employment centred around salmon farming and processing in Klemtu.

Mowi and the Kitasoo/Xai’Xais have also committed to work together to develop a skills training program for the people of Klemtu with the goal of ensuring that the jobs generated under the agreement are filled by members of the Nation.

There are now six salmon farms in Kitasoo/Xai’Xais territory, a testament to Chief Robinson’s enduring legacy for his community to achieve “one earner for each household”.

Photo illustration – Portrait of Archie Robinson Sr. Hereditary Chief of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais by David Goatley, courtesy of the Robinson family.